Every sport has its own rites of passage. In baseball, it is when a player hits his first home run. In football, it might be that first sack, that first touchdown, that first interception. In hockey, surely nothing graduates a player to actual legitimate playing status as scoring a goal. And if there's one thing that every bodybuilder has done at some point in their training career, truly committing themselves to the iron game in the name of building mass, strength, and size, it is engage upon a bulk.
Simply put, a "bulk" is a phase of your training & nutrition in which you eat, and train, a lot. Mostly, you engage upon a whole lot of eating. The "See-food" diet, as it is known, involves eating a whole lot of food. Consider each meal a hearty investment into the new and improved you. Plenty of beef, steak, chicken, eggs, and protein shakes; Lots of potatoes, rice, beans and pasta; Fish oil, almonds and peanut butter, too! And just a little junk for that level of 'safety fat', for which all successful bulks are recognized!
Don't forget the lifting that comes with a bulk. Lots of heavy, compound movements such as squat, deadlift, bench press, and curls come with a bulk. As a result, the muscles are strained, and grow to meet this demand. They grow bigger, and stronger, and more powerful. Along with the lifting comes plenty of sleep as well. If you like to bulk, then you know the joy of napping after an insane workout and giant meal.
As with all good things, they must eventually come to an end. Let's check out some signs you may have overdone it with the bulk, or bulked for too long.
You lose your breath easily
You're a healthy young adult, involved in hardcore training to boost your muscle and health viability for years to come. You shouldn't be getting winded walking up a flight of steps. If you discover you are running out of breath more and more often, then it is probably time to scale back the weight gains and focus on leaning up for a bit. Your blood pressure is probably not ideal at the moment, and it's likely those abs have been gone for a while now. Lean up!
You're losing waistline control
We all know upon starting a bulk phase that we're going to be sacrificing our midsection appearance for a few months. As we monitor our weekly progress, our measurements at the waistline are going to grow - that is expected. However, many bulkers reach a point when their waist continues to increase each week, but their arms, chest and other areas are staying constant. At this point, you're just getting fat! When this happens, the solution is to cut back the food until your waistline stabilizes.
Food is less appetizing
for every bulker, there is a point when food just isn't as enticing as it used to be. It's a joy to stack up the plates at a buffet when you're first unleashed to eat as you please. However, as the weeks and months pass, dining becomes a chore for many. When you're reached the point when your body is rejecting food, it's probably time to take a break. Food, like exercise or any other stimulus to your body, can be taxing. your digestive system wasn't evolved to eat 10,000 calories per day. If you are months into a bulk and you're just plain tired of food, you should cut back 250 calories each day until you find a comfortable spot. Also, try choosing different foods. Some foods - even healthy choices - can make the lifter bloated and gassy, which is never good when intaking 6 meals each day. Cut back the total number of daily calories (and/or meals) and reject any foods that your body already seems to be rejecting.
The strength gains are subsiding
Everything has a ceiling. Whether you are a natural or chemically assisted athlete, you will eventually reach a point where your gains will subside. Your biceps won't grow even a fraction of an inch after weeks of gains. Your legs won't improve, your back can't get much bigger. At this point, you've likely reached the ceiling of this bulking phase, and it's time to scale down. No bulk is supposed to last forever, and any bulks lasting 4 months venture you into the "perma-bulker" territory, where the stretch marks begin and abs may disappear forever. Cut back once you stop seeing gains!
Ending a bulk is easy, if you do it correctly. It wouldn't be wise to immediately jump from a heavy bulking phase, into a huge pre-contest diet. Such an abrupt change in overall total number of calories would without a doubt cost you a great deal of the muscle you have worked so hard to build during your bulk. Rather, ending a bulk should be a slow and gradual process. Reduce your total number of daily calories by 250 each week. After a month, you'll be down 1000 calories per day.
The bulk has been fun, but it's time to get tight once again. Take plenty of pictures and record your best lifts in terms of strength. You won't keep all of that strength, but you will keep most. And if you plan the gradual caloric tapering correctly, you won't lose much muscle either. Good luck!